This site is for students in my class A Brief History of Roman Britain. Links to articles, interesting websites and other blogs will be posted here. This site will also provide a forum for class members to interact outside of the classroom and share information they have found with the rest of the class.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hoards of Ancient Britain

Hoards are collections of objects or materials that were buried, usually with the intention of returning to dig them back up, but not always -- some hoards are buried as part of a ritual. Hoards can include gold, silver, or bronze objects, coins, tools, ceramics, glass; even organic materials such as textiles or animal remains. There are several classification of hoards that have been identified by archaeologists and treasure-hunters:

Personal hoards are collections of personal belongings buried in times of unrest. Most were probably buried with the intention by their owners to recover them at a later time.

Merchant's hoards are collections of objects which appear to have been buried by a traveling merchant who at some point feared for either his safety or the security of his inventory. Most were probably buried with the intention by their owners to recover them at a later time.

Founder's hoards are metal objects, ingots, castings and waste, even finished objects buried by a 'worker of metals,' such as a smith or foundryman. Most were probably buried with the intention by their owners to recover them at a later time.

Hoards of loot are the archetype of buried treasure, collections of objects where robbers, thieves or pirates have buried their ill-gotten gains. Most were probably buried with the intention by their owners to recover them at a later time using a treasure map where "X marks the spot."

Even during the Pax Romana, rebellions and warfare with the tribes from Scotland and later from Saxon raiders took place frequently enough that both Britons and Romans at times found their security to be in question, and opted to bury their valuables and try to come back for them later. Here are some extensive (though not definitive) lists of Iron Age hoards and Roman-era hoards in ancient Britain. Over 660 hoards are known from Britain containing coins just from the period AD 253-96. The number of hoards suggests that life in the LPRIA and during the Roman occupation was fraught with insecurity and violence.

Votive hoards are different from these other collections of buried objects. In a votive context the objects were buried with the intent to abandon them permanently, usually for ritual purposes, and the owners have no intent to recover them later. Certain clues can indicate that a hoard had votive intent - bones of sacrifices mixed in with the objects or the location of the hoard near water (Celtic peoples regarded water zones such as bogs and springs as a sacred places). Sometimes votive offerings were ritually destroyed/broken before being buried.

Example of a votive offering: the Frome Hoard

The Frome Hoard is a hoard of 52,503 Roman coins dating from c. AD 305, found tightly packed in a clay pot. It is the largest coin hoard to have been found in a single container. The hoard has been valued at £320,250.

According to the Frome Hoard website it was discovered by metal detectorist David Crisp, whose

quick thinking...meant that the Frome hoard was not disturbed upon its initial discovery. This crucial action has allowed for a systematic study of the hoard beginning with its archaeological excavation. As the pot was excavated the ceramic sherds and coins were removed in layers. Each layer was carefully numbered and individually packaged. The British Museum received the hoard in around 60 bags, there being several bags from each layer of the pot. It was hoped that by excavating the hoard in layers it would reveal clues as to why and how the hoard was collected and deposited. These context layers formed a framework for organising the coins and retaining essential deposition information. Having reliable contextual information can help us answer questions like:

• Were all the coins put in the pot at the same time?

Because the latest coins, of Carausius, are in the middle of the pot this does seem to be the case.

• Did the coins come from a variety of different individuals or sources?

The answer seems to be yes because there are two distinct groups with coins of Carausius in them: a number of earlier Carausian coins were in the last group to be put in the hoard, at the top of the pot, while a large number of later Carausian coins were in a group in the middle of the pot.

• How many different groups (smaller pots, leather bags etc) were emptied into the hoard?

We hope that by analysing all the coins, by layer and bag once they have been catalogued, we will gain an insight into how many different groups of coins were in the hoard.

For more information on the conservation methods being used to restore the coins and the efforts to exibit this extraodinary discovery, visit the Frome Hoard website.Especially check out the time-lapse video of the excavation of the hoard from its burial site!

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